So Bush announced he wouldn't keep his promise. That enraged conservatives but produced a bipartisan deal. The president accepted several tax increases, most notably an increase in the top personal tax rate to 31 percent from Reagan's 28 percent. Democrats accepted spending cuts twice as large in dollar value.
Their deal, followed by another one three years later during Bill Clinton's presidency, paid long-term dividends. The 1990s ended with the economy booming and the federal budget in surplus.
But Bush reaped no political reward. Even after victory in the first Iraq War caused his popularity to soar, the recession then dragged it back down.
Bush suffered a conservative rebellion in 1992 GOP primaries, then lost in a three-way general election campaign against Clinton and independent business executive Ross Perot. While the economy had resumed growing by then, voters still felt beleaguered.
The fallout reshaped the Republican Party. No national GOP leader since has accepted that preserving the government services Americans want requires higher taxes.
Instead, the party has treated the levers of government power as a one-way ratchet down for tax rates. The next two Republican presidents – Bush's son and now Donald Trump – cut taxes though neither circumstances nor public sentiment have supported corresponding cuts in spending.
The visceral appeal of tax cuts to voters makes that politically attractive in the short-term. The 41st president chose a harder path.
"We have a deficit to bring down," Bush had said in his 1989 inaugural address. "We must ensure that America stands before the world united, strong, at peace and fiscally sound. But of course things will be difficult.
"We need to compromise," he continued. Bush spoke those words outside the Capitol where he now lies in state, having met that commitment.